Body Positivity and Belly Dance
By Raq-ette Iris
Note: Iris presented this topic as a presentation at one of our WRJ First Friday events and blew everyone away. Here it is in blog format!
This is a topic near and dear to me: I’m so passionate about Belly Dance and so intense in my desire to express what the dance means to me and why it’s been both terrifying and growth-inspiring on a personal level that I’m finding it hard not to jump in head first, gushing like a mad woman and overwhelming you as a reader who may be new to Belly Dance or unsure of her place within the body positive movement..
Instead I’m going to try to start slow and ask some simple questions to give us a kind of framework or I might run off on a hundred different tangents trying to say everything all at once and end up saying nothing!
What are we talking about? Body Positivity, especially as it pertains to Belly Dance.
Who are we talking about? You. No one else can live for you. You make your decisions and you live your life. You can’t change anyone else. This is about you.
Where can this be accomplished? Here. You made it here and here is where you can start to seriously think about your body.
When can this happen? Now…and from now on. Not when you lose weight, not when school starts, not when you finish your latest project. NOW.
Why? Because you are important. And I’m going to say that again. Because you are important. You count. You matter. You, and the body you inhabit have a right to be here. You and the body you inhabit have an impact on the world.
How? A million ways, but right now our how is going to be through Belly Dance.
What do you have to gain?
Acceptance of Self
Mastery over muscle
Appreciation of your body through exploration of its capabilities: both body and mind
Learning about a whole new culture: expanding your view of the world. We begin to understand accept each other based on commonalities: dance is something everyone does!
Variety of styles, skill levels
So let’s start with a story:
When I was 20, my parents gave me a car. Cool right? Arguably, this is one of the most exciting things that could happen to a young person.
It just happens that this car used to belong to my Grandmother. It was a 1978 Cutlass Salon: Beige…. (Let me let that sink in). Not so cool. This thing was the epitome of what you just DON’T want to be seen driving. It was 10 years old and had no amenities. We’re talking an AM radio…period. The first thing I did was snatch the granny square afghan off the seat, which I lived to regret: did I mention the seats were vinyl? Those babies could cook the backs of your thighs in 2.6 seconds flat.
So here’s the thing. This is what I got. Cool or not, I had wheels. Wheels meant freedom and autonomy. This horribly-anything-but-what-I-would-have-chosen-for-myself car opened up a whole world of opportunities that were unattainable for me before.
So now let’s talk about bodies….something else I largely inherited from my grandmother. Mine is short and solid. My hair and eyes are brown. My most striking or remarkable aspect is my pre-disposition to want to gain and hold onto a whole bunch of weight. This is not what I would have chosen from the catalog if I had been shopping for a body. It is, however, what was given to me. So cool or not, this anything-but-what-I-would-have chosen-for-myself body is mine. It has strengths and weaknesses, but it is the tool I have to work with to create and experience every single aspect of my life.
Let me say that again. My body is the tool I have to:
Of my life.
This thing is amazing. It takes in information. It stores information. It sorts information and interprets what it takes in. It learns. From this comes the creation of emotions, likes, dislikes, compassion. It fixes itself. It is able to interact with the world. It replicates….Whoa.
My body DESERVES my respect
My body DESERVES my love
My body DESERVES my positivity
Dance is one place where you really can see when a person is able to love their body.
It’s not just a hip circle….it’s a hip (ahhhhh) circle….look at my hip…and it’s coming around. It looks good, it feels good, and it’s mine. This is me. Yeah.
It’s not just putting your arm up, it’s being THERE with your arm as it goes up, feeling which muscles are being used, how MUCH they’re being used; the flow of one muscle into another.
It’s not just a series of movements strung together, it’s communication: you get to show someone the real you without saying a word and, yeah, sometimes that’s HARD, but sometimes words just don’t cut it and this can be a way to put it all out there.
Here’s an exercise:
Pull up Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I
You’re going to dance. The goal here is not to come up with a pretty or interesting dance. The goal is not necessarily to fuse Belly Dance moves with American pop music…you may or may not know the moves and you may or may not know this song. The goal is to take moves you are already comfortable with and REALLY connect with your body. No hiding! No excuses! The goal is to find and showcase…YOU! Do you like to really rock out with your hips? Use them! Use them to the nth degree. Show the world what hips are! Do you have a killer smile? Flash it! Are you all about slow ooey gooey moves? This is where you let them out. Pops and locks? Yup! Now’s the time! Whatever makes you feel good, whatever makes you feel confident: You’re the star of this one.
This is often our relationship with our bodies: a bad romance.
Our relationship with our bodies is a relationship. And body positivity and acceptance can be like couples counseling
Sometimes things are great and it’s a match made in heaven…everyone is happy and content.
Sometimes there are HUGE evident issues that cause HUGE everyday problems.
Sometimes the problems are hidden but eroding a good relationship quietly from the inside.
There are times when your body can simply let you down: people get sick or hurt. Sometimes your body doesn’t react to things the way you expect or want it to.
Sometimes YOU let your body down. We don’t always eat the right things or sleep enough or move enough.
Just like a relationship, you sometimes have to make a conscious decision to love your body, even though it’s not perfect…maybe especially where it’s not perfect. Relationships don’t get fixed by ignoring your partner, or by alienating them or blaming them. It’s so much easier to get WORK done when you do it in a positive way.
*Something to think about: You may not always be 100% in awe of your partner, but do you let other people tear them down? Most of us will come to our loved ones’ defense. Shouldn’t we love ourselves in the same way?
*Something else to think about: the Japanese have a practice called kintsukuroi. They repair a broken object with gold or silver and understand that the piece is more beautiful and stronger for having been broken.
Why Bad (romance)? Because we have been messed with. We have been lied to. We’ve been bamboozled into thinking that the only body that is worth having is a young, healthy, athletic body. More than that. We’ve been told tall is better than short and thin is better than fat. (but not tootall and not toothin). We’ve even been told that the color of our skin or hair or eyes is not as desirable as someone elses’. We’ve been told growing old means we are less desirable. We’ve been told we should conform…change our body, no matter the cost…or hide our bodies and thus hide ourselves. We are told that our imperfection is a burden on society.
“Seriously, who wants to see that?” Whatever “that” is we internalize it. Our specific imperfection is terrible! Unforgiveable! We hide ourselves or try to fix ourselves. We pick on ourselves beforesomeone else can. We laugh at jokes that were made at our expense and we point out other peoples’ flaws. And every day we are bombarded with a thousand reminders: on TV, in magazines, store windows, billboards, and on-line by images of bodies…desirable bodies…bodies without our imperfection. They have a certain look to them to begin with, but then they get touched up…and somehow we are supposed to live up to a standard that isn’t even reality.
Here are some pictures of women who have been photo-shopped to appear “more appealing”
Was there really anything wrong with the original woman? Seriously…would Disney’s box office sales have plummeted if they had drawn the Little Mermaid on the right?
Yet they chose the tiny version on the left. Watch it in action here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLmSUhyySLI youtube Power of Photoshop)
Tabloids and Click Baits really prey on this. They regularly feature “Who Aged Horribly”
And “Who Wore It Best” Often these are just regular pics vs glamor shots or who is more popular or thinner
So we run around trying to not let people see our “flaws”. We put makeup over our pimples and we tweeze hairs and we lift this up and squeeze that in and we hide our cellulite and our scars and our crooked toenails and our varicose veins. We bleach our teeth and dye our hair. We starve ourselves and torture ourselves and carve ourselves up chasing that ideal. We’ve been told we’re not good enough.
Don’t Buy It.
Stop and think.
No one is perfect.
Beyond that: you already know that there is beauty in imperfection:
You pick out the oddest looking puppy to bring home.
You choose an asymmetrical hemline.
You find a wooden table with intricate patterns in the grain.
Questions to ponder:
Would Madonna have been better off in life if her parents had put her in braces?
What could you do with the time you’ve spent hiding?
What if, when I got my first car, I was so embarrassed that I would only drive it at night when no one else was on the road? What if I never changed the oil because it didn’t matter anyway? What If I convinced myself I was better off walking until I owned a black Firebird with a gold eagle on the hood?
Fortunately there has been some pushback lately. People are really spotlighting and questioning some of these values. Modeling agencies are hiring models that represent more of us. Tess Holiday, Madeline Stewart , Winnie Harlow, & Stephanie Reid..
There is a real movement that includes more and more of us in the spotlight where we belong
Take a step on this journey where you discover how to celebrate your body and yourself.
I am NOT saying you can’t work on yourself: you have the right to do what you want with your body. What I am saying is that your goals should be YOUR goals for YOUR reasons, not because you’ve been tricked or bullied into them. Isn’t it easier to shine a positive light on what you have to work with?
How many of us look in the mirror and say, “I HATE what I see and I’ll never be happy until it’s different”? What if your attitude was:
“I love what I have and I’m going to be happy as I work to make it better” or
“I love what I have and I’m happy to keep it this way.” or
“ I love what I have and am ready to accept the changes in my body as they happen naturally.”
These are all incredibly valid. These are incredibly powerful. As you accept yourself, you allow love of self.
So what if something could help you find that love that was also good for you?
Along comes Belly Dance.
Physically Belly Dance helps you move, strengthens, stretches, and keeps your blood moving.
This dance is accessible. You can Belly Dance is you’re thin or fat…if you are a gifted athlete or if you trip over your own feet. You can Belly Dance if you’re young or old, if your body is intact, or if pieces of your body don’t work or aren’t there (D1, D2,D3, D4, D5, D6, D7)
Famous Dance Star Mona Said, dancing in regular clothes and still "Raqing" it!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh8O4ZSvqTs
Dancer Samia of China https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiECgisc8HQ
Mentally, there is a huge boost in watching yourself transform: experiencing your body do things it couldn’t do the week before. There is a conversation that is opened between you and your body: a conversation that can lead to a much better understanding of who you are, what you need, where you stand, and where you are heading. Remember our couples counseling? You can’t fix things without communicating. Bodies closed to conversation do not get their needs met, and eventually they will rebel.
There is a lot to gain in having something to look forward to: be it learning new things, just getting out of the house, enjoying some conversation with classmates, learning new music, hearing about a different culture.
Here are some of the beautiful people I dance with or have learned from:
Alia Thabit www.aliathabit.com
Dance Friends Barb & Sandy, and Teacher Lily with Iris
Amity Alize www.raq-on.net
Could we pick them apart for their imperfections? Sure. But why? Isn’t it better to let their strength, beauty, and joy wash over us and fill us?
This can be a time and a place to heal…your kintsukuroi: Belly Dance can be your gold. We can use this as a medium to mend our cracks, strengthen ourselves, and emerge beautiful.